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Justices should consider recusal

By By Bob Martin, The Alabama Scene
The question being raised in Montgomery this week is whether or not the justices of the State Supreme Court should step down and appoint a new court to hear the matter regarding the White Hall Gaming Center’s electronic bingo machines.
The reasons cited are: (1) Gov. Bob Riley, under questioned authority, appointed a retired district attorney to initiate an investigation and raid the gambling facility where machines and a large amount of cash were seized. (2) The governor has couched the issue as a matter of “right and wrong,” has conducted an extended PR effort to justify his cause and is making a specific issue of it before the voters…voters who elect these judges, three of whom will be up in 2010. (3) The White Hall business is operating under the authority of the constitution of Alabama as confirmed by a circuit court. (4) The governor has significant discretion with regard to the court’s budget and the justices’ personal perks. (5) The governor, I am told by sources who should know, has been spending a great deal of time drinking coffee at the Judicial Building obviously “courting” some of the justices about something.”
The court heard arguments on a matter in the case last week and produced a ruling favorable to the governor. This just doesn’t pass the proverbial smell test and I believe each justice should carefully review the ethical matters involved in participating on the case. There is a simple solution. The court could appoint an impartial panel of lawyers and retired judges to hear the matter. If there are issues with the type of bingo machines, as the governor claims, those issues should be dealt with by an impartial court.
Meanwhile the governor has taken aim at the “Sweet Home Alabama” coalition which is pushing for a statewide referendum on legislation which would expand and tax bingo in the state. Last week he threatened a lawsuit against television and radio stations running the coalition’s ads accusing Riley of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds funneled through lobbyists and political groups from Mississippi casino operators.
Allegations of Riley’s ties to Mississippi gambling interests gained new life after the release of a 2006 Senate Indian Affairs Report concerning former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The report included a footnote in which William Worfel, former vice chairman of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, quoted Abramoff as saying that Mississippi Choctaw Chief Phillip Martin had spent ($13 million) “to get the governor of Alabama elected to keep gaming out of Alabama so it wouldn’t hurt the casinos in Mississippi.”
The governor has refused to answer the question about Mississippi casino money except to say he has “never met a Choctaw in his life.”
Riley’s threats to broadcast stations went largely unheeded. He threatened 22 television stations. Only four pulled the ad. None of the 37 radio stations he threatened took the ad off the air. “I urge you to take quick action to stop airing these false advertisements; otherwise, we will seek appropriate legal action against your company for damages,” wrote a deputy legal advisor to Riley.
I am frankly baffled that such high profile television stations as WBRC in Birmingham, WAFF in Huntsville and WSFA in Montgomery, were among those which succumbed to a politician’s threat. By the next afternoon the coalition had new ads back on the air.
Perhaps the reason the governor reacted in such a manner about the ads is that it was the first time many Alabamians had heard about his Mississippi casino connections via Abramoff and his former congressional aide Michael Scanlon. Both pleaded guilty for their scam operation called “Gimme Five” with the Indian casino operators as outlined in the hearings of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee chaired by Sen. John McCain. On November 21, 2005, Scanlon agreed to pay restitution totaling more than $19 million to the tribes
Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: bob@montgomeryindependent.com